Choosing the Right RC Airplane Wheel
Undoubtedly the most important part of a radio control airplane are the wings. Without the wings, the plane would be nothing more than a long, thin tube falling from the sky. Of course, the engine, control surfaces, and tail feathers are all very important in keeping the plane aloft in the open air. Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of an RC airplane is the landing gear, and more specifically, the wheels. Without wheels, the plane would have to be launched by hand and land upside down, which is not a suitable option for all model planes.
Most receiver-ready kits or models come with landing gear that the manufacturer has deemed appropriate for the size of the model. This is usually enough if you plan to take off from a hard, stable surface. If you fly in a less than ideal area, or one that is surrounded by grass, you may need a wheel that is more suitable than the stock wheels.
There are three or four types of wheels that the hobbyist can choose from. Wheels are usually made of rubber, soft foam, plastic, or Styrofoam. Each wheel has a different purpose and depending on the type of aircraft you fly and the wheel you choose, one type may be beneficial and another detrimental to the model’s flight characteristics.
For hobbyists looking for a more realistic/scale look, the ribbed rubber wheel is often the best option. However, care must be taken as rubber wheels are heavier than other types. The trade off is that they look better and roll and grip better than plastic wheels in my opinion. If you choose rubber, make sure you don’t choose one that is too heavy and makes your plane fly poorly.
Soft foam wheels are the most popular type of balsa and foam small aircraft wheels. These wheels are light, smooth, and look quite realistic from a distance. The durability is less than rubber wheels, but they are much lighter. If you need the ability to launch from the grass, the larger foam wheels would be a great option.
Plastic wheels are generally reserved for cheaper models. They are light, not very durable and do not grip the ground very well. RC planes with plastic wheels tend to dance or slide during taxis and landings, especially when the plane is tail drag.
Styrofoam wheels like the ones found on the Multiplex Fun Cub are a rarity in the world of airplane wheels, but they’re super lightweight and can be made huge if you need to take off on rocky terrain.
When choosing the right wheel for your model aircraft, it’s important to think about appearance, weight, and size. Choose the wheel that is light enough, but strong enough for the surface you will be landing and taking off from.